Spacetime Funk

holy-islandWith the next episode of LOST coming tomorrow, I figured we’d do a little time traveling of our own.  Let’s hop in, fire up the flux-capacitor, harness 1.21 jiggawatts of electricity and be on our way back to 1988.  August 6th, 1988 to be exact.  Upon vanishing from 2009, and skidding into the past, we find ourselves flux1amidst the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.  We land in the small town of Telluride; a ski town during the winter, but, for us, it is a fine summer night.  It feels like we were brought here for a reason- but what is that reason?  The quantum puzzle is a bit overwhelming and we just need a beer to relax for a minute.  Taking a turn down the nearest street, we ditch into the first bar.  It was called “The Roma.”

Sitting at a table, we order a few drafts.  But before getting them, we notice a thumping groove coming from the stage behind us.  Turning around, we are struck by the absolute dorkiness of the musicians, yet the music is good, no it was better than good, this shit is funky!  These guys are…Phish?!

telluride-town-centerAs our side-effects dissipate from the journey through space-time, we figure out we have been summoned by an old-school YEM jam to this very bar, but why?  When is the last time we have actually listened to 1988 Phish?  Maybe that was part of the answer?  All these existential thoughts are quickly wiped from the forefront of our mind as a huge groove takes over the bar.

The jam is laid back, very relaxed- almost like a half-speed YEM from the future.  But what stands out is the patience of such a young band and the way they use each other’s musical ideas to further their own.  They might be young, but these guys have the chops; they can play.  Forming some truly funky rhythms during the beginning of the jam, Trey sits way back and let phish-colorado_88_bMike and Fishman lead things out of the gate.  Page provides the lead melody in the form of large organ swells, while in the background, Trey smiles that goofy smile and begins throwing down a series of exact rhythm licks that we would come to love and know by heart nine years later.

Trey remains in the background as the other three direct this jam’s initial course.  But when Trey slides into the improv, he begins to wail some signature YEM leads with authority over the already fat groove.  All of a sudden we are smack in the middle of a raging YEM and Gordon begins to assault us with huge bass bombs, digging in far deeper mid-jam, launching the explosives into the small audience without concern.  The music far out-sizes these tiny surroundings as the band brings the YEM to a soaring peak- eighties style.

The drop into Mike’s bass solo lasts only a short bit before the rest of the band hops back into the mix, engaging in song-ending antics where Trey and Fish straight go batty.  As the two improvise lyrics such as “Baby! Baby! Baaabay!” and shouting “Good God y’all!,” all of a sudden, we are witnessing a legitimate old-school Phish freak-out!  The band emerges from this absurdity with a funky groove, different than then the previous jam.  Before getting a chance to acclimate to the jam, Phish shifts right into “Cities” without missing a beat.  Hearing this version that doesn’t sound all-together different from the versions of the late ’90s, a thought begins to stir inside your head.

While Trey sings the song as a twenty-something rather than a forty-something, the music behind it is still so slammin’!  All of a sudden, you find yourself carving out a slice of dance floor and bumping to the infectious beats.  This band was going somewhere- you knew that- but now you knew why.

p07074ew206As the second verse ends, Trey and Page begin a shrill pattern that departs from “Cities,” while Mike and Fish create a uniquely Phishy groove beneath them.  What the hell was going on?  You’ve never heard this before.  That is correct, this is a full on raging “Dave’s Energy Guide!”  As soon as you realize it, boom!  The band slams back into the full speed grooves.  And people say that Phish funk started during 1997!?  Ha!  This was funky as hell.  Phish had played funk all along!  Just as quickly as this crazy experience happened, the band slammed on the breaks, ending the song, and the 25 minute multi-dimensional experience.

25smAs we begin to join in the applause with the rest of the intimate bar, we feel a force drawing us backwards towards the door.  We try to stay, but we can’t; someone or something won’t let us.  As we are pulled though the doorway, we drop a couple twenties on the ground to settle our tab, as we hear Phish start up “Take the A Train.”  Once outside, we can barely hear anything at all.  What was the point if we couldn’t even stay for the second set?  The show had just started!  Hmmm.  Something strange was afoot at the Circle K.

As we are pulled back into the DeLorean and sped back to the future, the reason for this escapade dawns on us.  Someone wanted to send us a message, and the message came loud and clear.  Phish didn’t get funky on Halloween ’96.  Phish didn’t even turn funky in Hamburg, Germany on March 1st, 1997, even though they made an album out of it.  Phish were born funky.  Now we understood.

hw77The myth goes that Phish was a band that didn’t play dance grooves until their seismic transformation in 1997.  However, go revisit any show from any year, and I guarantee that you will hear echoes of the late ’90s ring true.  While the cosmic magnifying glass was certainly placed on whole-band groove come ’97, this was something Phish had incorporated into their music from day one. Well, at least since that crazy “YEM > Cities” in 1988!  That much we now know for sure.

LISTEN TO 8.6.88’s YEM >CITIES NOW! (Roll over songs and click play.)



7.23.88 “Pete’s Fabulous Phish Fest” Underhill, VT SBD < LINK

phish_logoKeeping with the theme of both yesterday (“Mike’s Groove”) and today’s of old-school improv, here we have a three-set Phish extravaganza from 1988 that features the public debut of “Mike’s > H2 > Weekapaug.”  All of the early classics are found somewhere within this marathon gig. Check out very young versions of lots of your favorite songs.  Ironically, this SBD recording will be passed onto Pete, the host of the party over 20 years ago!  It’s a small world.

I: Intro. Jam, Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Famous Mockingbird, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Lizards, On Your Way Down, AC/DC Bag, Possum, Walk Away, Bold as Love, No Dogs Allowed

II: The Sloth, Fire*, The Curtain, Terrapin, Run Like an Antelope, Satin Doll, Blue Bossa, La Grange, Alumni Blues, Peaches en Regalia

III: You Enjoy Myself, Contact, Harry Hood, Dinner and a Movie, Slave to the Traffic Light, The Ballad of Curtis Loew, Good Times Bad Times

Show billed as “Pete’s Fabulous Phish Fest.” *With Peter Danforth (host) on sax.

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112 Responses to “Spacetime Funk”

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  1. c0wfunk Says:

    you know I don’t think it’s so much that phish wasn’t funky before 97. They funked. Many of the riffs were the same. But they were missing an element of Groove that is mostly intangible. I still hear it listening back to older stuff, the Groove is really just not there. Yeah, they played funk, but the pocket was just a little off, imo.

  2. camman Says:

    man, these guys simply just were the best there ever was

  3. Little Buddy Says:

    Very creative, Mr. Miner. Nice work!

  4. Chalkdustin Says:

    Thanks for the vintage cuts, Miner. It’s really moving to hear how much they have evolved over time, yet still realize how truly special they were even at the start of their lives together.

  5. Clod Says:

    Listening to a a c.1987-1989 “Sneakin’ Sally” quickly verifies that the Funk has always been there

  6. bhizzle Says:

    Thanks for the 88 YEM->Cities link. I never really listen to pre-90’s material and I don’t know why. I think it’s because I get nervous over potential quality of sound problems. And I have tons of pre-90’s material too. I like the setlists of the early stuff, with the A-trains and Dave’s Energy Guide. What a shame. This post is making m think I should go and burn some discs tonight.

    I used to listen to one show, cannot remember date, but they do a Whipping Postand a Harpua and call out their friend Jahroy to do some reggae material. It’s hysterical.

  7. phishymutha Says:

    Its good to see that you’re a fellow Lost fan, Miner. My life basically evolves around Phish and Lost. Keep up the good work, you’re the shit brotha!

  8. Mitch Says:

    Was that YEM > Cities from 8.6.88 instead of 12.6.88?

    I was looking for the setlist on and I think I found it on 8.6.88

  9. themanatee Says:

    “lay down a couple of twenties”….you must have been boozing miner…this was 1988….

  10. Wax Banks Says:

    No, Miner, this post is laughable.

    Phish in ’88 was a busy band, not on par technically with where they’d be ten years later – listen especially to Page and Mike during that ‘Cities’ jam – and more importantly not confident enough in their improvisations to simply let a jam take its course, to let grooves slowly elaborate and complicate over time. That’s why the ‘DEG’ here would’ve been a revelation live, as it’s a neat little interlude, but there’s basically no group improv between ‘Cities’ and ‘DEG’ – it’s an arrangement.

    Before Phish was a ‘jam band’ it was a tight, unusually flexible prog rock group. The band hadn’t even learned the meaning of ‘patience’ in 1988, which isn’t surprising as they were young talented fools back then. They played like they were always in a hurry – even at a plodding tempo as in this ‘YEM.’ The improv didn’t breathe as it did during the last 15 years; it felt like there was nothing at stake. They were playing neat medleys of intricate songs, sure, but Phish in 1988 could never in this world have played a 1997 ‘Wolfman’s Brother,’ could never have tossed out those complex rhythmic variations, or more importantly tossed them aside.

    Even in 1993 you hear the same thing – go back to the canonical 2/20/93 II and you’ll notice that there’s no point at which someone (usually Trey) is leading the band off on a lightning-quick tangent. Everything’s rush rush rush, the musicians are always going somewhere instead of savoring where they are at any given moment in the improvisation. You get the same thing up through 1995, really – exciting as the Bomb Factory show and the colossal Tweezers of ’94 are, they seem to hurry listeners along instead of welcoming them in. Even at their most spacious, Phish ’96 was never relaxed. Trey has said as much on several occasions.

    The innovation of 1997 wasn’t ‘funk,’ it was playing without a setlist, letting the shape of a given improvisation determine its destination, responding to the tempo of the set in performance rather than ordering songs according to a preexisting notion of what the show should be. The band got much much better at what it did until sometime in 1998, to my ears, after which the songwriting was vastly less interesting (cf. the insipid TAB tunes like ‘Jibboo,’ ‘Sand,’ ‘First Tube’) and the playing got a little too relaxed, too forgiving. Which is why for so many fans of a certain generation, 1997-8 remains the peak.

    Anyhow, there are plenty of reasons to listen to Phish ’88, but ‘funk’ and ‘groove’ sure as hell aren’t among them.

  11. Jon Says:

    I hope you didn’t touch anything while you were back in 1988, Mr. Miner…what if you altered something and suddenly Phish didn’t exist!! All their albums might start disappearing from our shelves, and band members might start disappearing from concert photos a la “Back to the Future.”

  12. bhizzle Says:

    @ Jon – no shit, right. Fuck! Miner, what are you doing? If anything you should of went back with a sports stats book.

  13. jon_hansen Says:

    Don’t be like Biff and be a butthead, Miner haha:)

  14. Mr.Miner Says:

    “The innovation of 1997 wasn’t ‘funk,’ it was playing without a setlist”
    ^^ give me a break dude. If you can’t see the HUGE shift in their playing to collaborative groove in ’97, you need to take the Wax Banks out of your ears mu friend. ;

  15. SOAM Says:

    What is ironic about Phish is that they quit right when they figured out how to write and compose songs-real songs -not just jams with 5 words or a sentence. I prefer the more sophisticated phish as compared to the silly vaccum garbage-peace

  16. Mr.Miner Says:

    “Before Phish was a ‘jam band’ it was a tight, unusually flexible prog rock group. The band hadn’t even learned the meaning of ‘patience’ in 1988,”

    ^^ far from true. Just listen to this jam.

  17. Mr.Miner Says:

    “Phish in 1988 could never in this world have played a 1997 ‘Wolfman’s Brother,’ could never have tossed out those complex rhythmic variations”

    ^^Ummm. No shit. It was 10 years earlier in their development. Good call!

  18. MP Says:

    @bhizzle – Don’t you mean a Phish stats book? Now I know how Miner makes those tremendous calls and tours in a Delorean.

  19. Pence Says:

    oooh, I thought this thread was starting off a little slow, then minor decided to turn up the heat. Any response Mr. Banks?

  20. guyforget Says:

    anybody having trouble opening the mediafire download page??

  21. bhizzle Says:

    What we don’t need is another Prince cover band!

  22. camman Says:

    This may just be me, but i think Miner and certains phans, myself included, do honestly love everything this band has put out. in 1988 they were a bar band that had been together for 5 years. sure there are major differences from ’88 and ’98, but the point of this article is that phish was ALWAYS good… and phish before 1990 seems to get too much flac. whats wrong with rushed music? sometimes i need a fast firey LLAMA for 1990. I love the grooves of later phish, but i dont think its up to us to judge different ears of phish against one another. take it for what it was, and stop trying to put the “best ever” label on stuff…

  23. Chalkdustin Says:

    ^^Well said.

  24. camman Says:

    i meant eras, not ears… though ears are just as important as eras

  25. brandofunk Says:

    nice minor, Totaly loved the story.

    Wax banks your thoughts and blog suck

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